Gaming For Health

by Conor Friedersdorf

It may be effective in war zones:

In November 2009, the Mental Health Advisory Team of the United States Army published the surprising results of a year-long study of more than 1,000 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. The study evaluates, among other things, the coping behaviors employed by the soldiers to deal with the stress of serving in the war.

The soldiers’ coping behaviors included a range of activities, like reading, listening to music, using Facebook and working out. But what proved to be the single most protective activity the habit that best bolstered the soldiers’ mental resilience was spending three to four hours a day playing videogames. A regular daily gaming habit corresponded with the overall lowest levels of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicide attempts or domestic violence.

And yet and here’s where we see too much of a good thing for soldiers playing more than 28 hours a week, there was a steep decrease in the protective benefits of gaming. Indeed, 40 hours a week or more was predictive of significant psychological distress. These results suggest the need for careful balance. The positive emotions we feel, and the social relationships we build, by playing games can help us be stronger in real life, but only as long as we’re not spending all of our time avoiding reality.